That’s the thing with grief. It’s not that there aren’t shortcuts – there are. I could numb my grief in various ways. I could compartmentalize my feelings. I got awfully good at that over the past ten years, at putting my feelings aside so I could deal with the next crisis, and the next one, and the next. I could take drugs of one kind or another. I could just open my arms wide to denial, become one with it and pretend that none of this ever happened.
What I know to be true about that is that it won’t work. It never does. Sooner or later it will catch up with you. It will backfire on you. It’s like that scene in When Harry Met Sally… when Sally finds out that her ex, Joe, is getting married. She goes on a crying jag that includes all of the crying she didn’t do when the relationship ended. She tra-la-la-ed her way through the breakup, saying that she was fine, and convincing everybody in her life, including herself, that she was healthy and fine and great and NOTHING TO SEE HERE FOLKS.
Except she’s not. She’s far from great. She’s sad and traumatized and hurt and confused and lonely and betrayed and scared. It all hits her at once, a tsunami of emotion.
The only way out is through. It’s awful. What it is, is this. It’s waking up every single day, seeing a wall of flames in front of you, and deciding that you’re going to walk through it. It’s going to hurt like hell, you say to yourself. You don’t want to do it, you say. You want someone to come along and put that fire out for you, to show you a different path. To airlift you out of there, to safety, to a place that’s peaceful and beautiful and easy. You want that, but you make that decision, every day, that you’re not going to take the easy way out. You’re not going to numb it. You are going to walk into that wall of flames, right into it, and you are going to let it burn you. You are going to let it hurt you. You are going to lean into it until it feels like it will consume you. You’re going to cry your way through it, scream your way through it, run and claw and kick and shout and curse and sometimes you will lie down in the middle of it and find yourself wishing that it would just reduce you to ash, because then at least the next day you wouldn’t have to face it again. But somehow, from someplace you didn’t even know existed inside of you, you find the strength to stand back up. You square your shoulders. You head back into the flame. You lean into it. You let it burn.
And you trust, you don’t even know how but you do, that there will come a day when you will wake up and there will be smaller flames. Flames that maybe spring up and catch you unawares sometimes, but not a wall, not something that can swallow you whole. Brush fires, not a raging wildfire. Not an inferno, not anymore. And when that day comes, you will think, this is manageable. I can pick my way through this. And maybe your world will never be completely without fire (is anybody’s?) but maybe it can be a world where fire is something you don’t need to fear, not in the same way. Where it can be a source of warmth, of solace. Of light in the darkness. Maybe it can be a reminder that you survived it, that you are stronger than anybody knows, not even you because when you look back at the wall of flames, now behind you, you wonder how anybody ever passes through it. And yet you did. You did it.
I hate this fire. I walk through it anyway. I lean in. I let it burn. It hurts. I hate it. I just keep saying it, over and over. The only way out is through. The only way out is through. The only way out….